Here’s a piece of advice for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted: Delete from your Rolodex the names of the individuals who convinced you that Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras was not competent to serve on the county board of elections. You were misled.
That said, it is a testament to the Republican secretary of state’s sense of fairness that he is willing to admit the error of his ways. He did so last week by appointing Betras to the board of elections — four months after finding him “not competent” to serve.
We aren’t going to dwell on Husted’s change of heart because we believe the right decision has been made — albeit after triggering a controversy that was unnecessary. If he had wanted information about Betras’ role as treasurer of now disgraced state Attorney General Marc Dann’s transition team, he should have sought out individuals with no political agendas. He would have learned that none of the investigative agencies that went after Dann and some members of his staff pointed the finger of blame at Betras.
But, Husted’s reversal is to be applauded. He not only has followed tradition, in that the executive committee of each political party in the county makes a recommendation and the secretary of state goes along with it, but has made the right decision. Betras, who has been Democratic chairman since April 2009, wants to restore the credibility of politics in the county after the numerous incidents of government corruption, and has also voiced concern about the operation of the board of elections.
We aren’t naive when it comes to the conduct of elections. There’s a reason why two Republicans and two Democrats serve on the board. And there also is a reason why the law requires that if the chairman of the board is of one party, the director of the office will be of the other party. This ensures checks and balances, so that no staffers have the ability to influence the outcome of elections. Make no mistake about it, partisan politics and mischief go hand in hand.
Betras, who has talked about the unhealthy relationship between the Democrats and Republicans on the board and on staff, has pledged to push for a working environment that brings to mind President Ronald Reagan’s view of the Soviet Union: Trust, but verify.
The Democratic chairman has a full agenda that he intends to pursue, foremost of which is to ensure that the taxpayers of Mahoning County get their money’s worth from the employees of the elections board’s office. That means requiring full-time employees put in a full day of work — eight hours. No one can find fault with that.
As a well-known lawyer, he also wants to make sure that the board enters into agreements that are not only on solid legal ground, but can stand up to pubic scrutiny.
The new board member should persuade his colleagues that a top-to-bottom evaluation of the payroll is justified. Who works for the board of elections? What are their qualifications? How did they get their jobs? These and other questions have long been asked — at least by taxpayers in the private sector.
There is another pressing issue that the board should explore: How to get young people involved in the electoral process. Given the aging of this region’s population, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Mahoning County to find two Republicans and two Democrats to staff each precinct voting site during an election. College students could be lured — if the price is right and the chairmen of the two parties successfully appeal to their sense of civic responsibility.
Betras is raring to go as the new member of the Mahoning County Board of Elections, and we support his appointment — with the hope that he does not go along just to get along.